Marian Anderson, renowned contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th Century, was born on February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Anderson was the daughter of John Berkley Anderson, a small business owner, and Annie Delilah Rucker Anderson, a former Virginia schoolteacher. Anderson grew up in Philadelphia and began performing by the age of 10 when she joined the People’s Chorus led by Emma Azalia Hackley.
Anderson graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1921 and attempted to enroll in the Philadelphia Music Academy (now the University of the Arts) but was rejected because of her race. She then pursued private studies with prominent music instructors, Giuseppe Boghetti and Agnes Reifsnyder.
In 1925 at the age of 28 Anderson won first prize in a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. Anderson remained in New York to pursue private studies and in 1928 she sang for the first time at Carnegie Hall followed two years later by her European debut at Wigmore Hall in London, U.K. Anderson spent the early 1930s touring Europe but returned to the United States in 1935 to make her fist recital appearance at Town Hall in New York City.
By the late 1930s Anderson was a highly acclaimed concert performer giving about 70 recitals a year. Despite her fame she was not allowed to eat at certain restaurants or stay in certain hotels while on tour. Albert Einstein in response hosted her at his home each time she visited the Princeton University area.
In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission to Anderson to sing to a racially integrated audience in its Constitution Hall. In the ensuing furor First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR and along with Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began a campaign to have Anderson perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That concert took place on April 9, 1939 with Anderson opening the program with “My Country ‘Tis